Why Does This Have to Be So Dumb?

More Thoughts on Bright: Spoiler Space

When you watch a move that could be good, based on at least some of the talent involved, and then it turns out to be bad it’s infuriating. As I noted in my review of Bright, I’ve watched the film more than once. It’s a watchable film, with on-screen talent (Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace) that keep you interested in the movie even while recognizing that the story is garbage and little of what you’re watching makes cohesive sense. Could you imagine how much better the film would have been if it had a serious screenwriter involved (not Max Landis) and a studio that actually knew how to make good films (not NetflixOriginally started as a disc-by-mail service, Netflix has grown to be one of the largest media companies in the world (and one of the most valued internet companies as well). With a constant slate of new internet streaming-based programming that updates all the time, Netflix has redefined what it means to watch TV and films (as well as how to do it).)? That would have been a franchise-starting film worth watching.

But because the film was just watchable enough, it’s stuck with me. I’ve been thinking about things that just didn’t work, reasons why the story falls apart, and how it all could have been improved. While this is not a comprehensive list of all the story flaws in the film, here are a few big things that I wants to discuss further, items that had they been addressed better, might have improved the film substantially:

The Dark Lord

Who is the Dark Lord? The villains of the film, the Inferni (the race of “evil” elves), want to resurrect the Dark Lord, and there are various other groups (like the Brotherhood of Light) who are preparing to fight the Dark Lord when he rises again. Now, the Brotherhood are presented as crazy, apocalypse preppers, but they also happen to be right to be worried since the Inferni are out there, waiting for their chance. While we don’t get a good exploration of the Brotherhood (which, frankly, we really should since that seems like one of those rich, world-building details we need more of), we do learn that they were fighting the Inferni all because, yeah, the Dark Lord could be coming back soon.

The Dark Lord, while handled in hushed tones (almost like he’s Voldemort), doesn’t actually get any detail about who he is or why we should fear him. “He tried to take over the world centuries ago and the orcs sided with him while everyone else fought against him,” is the most we get. It is, to be blunt, lazy storytelling. He’s called “The Dark Lord” so obviously he has to be bad, but without any real historical context – and by that I mean slotting him into a real point in the timeline of human civilization, since this whole world is supposed to mirror our own – we don’t really get how bad he is or why we should fear him.

When did he exist? We barely understand how these other fantasy species exist alongside our own, but since they don’t seem to have affected human civilization in any substantial way (the biggest change we do see is that Beverly Hills is written in Elvish instead of English) then the Dark Lord has to exist at a specific point in human civilization, post us just being apes living in caves, eating dirt and bugs while being scared of thunder. That would then mean he has to either be some new threat slotted into some time period we already know or, more likely, the Dark Lord is a conqueror we already do know.

Think about it. Every major conqueror we know reshaped the world in some way, if only for a few years, as they set about making their empire. Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Gengis Khan, Napoleon, each of them changed the world in dramatic ways while they were ruling, and the reverberations of their empire carried through the timeline like ripples in a pond, causing reactions long after their empires fell. If some new emperor were to have risen that would have then changed the timeline in some meaningful way (beyond saying “ooh, the Dark Lord was a bad guy”). Countries would have fallen, maps would be different, things wouldn’t have worked out the way they did, especially if his rise was far enough back in the timeline (like it’s implied in Bright).

Thus, the Dark Lord really should have been some imperial-minded conqueror we already know. Someone whose actions could be viewed as evil in retrospect. With the most obvious answer (Hitler) being excluded since that’s both lazy storytelling (it’s always the Nazis) and doesn’t fit all the other details we know about the Dark Lord (that he existed at some point, presumably, hundreds of years ago) then the most likely conqueror we have in human civilization that could fit the bill, I think, if Gengis Khan. Now, I’m not meaning that to imply that Gengis really was a terrible person, only that his actions could be viewed as bad from the right perspective. He did have a habit of wiping whole civilizations off the map, of burning libraries and destroying centers of learning, and of using biological weapons (specifically the bubonic plague-infected corpses, catapulted into fortified towns) against his enemies. With magic in the world, and orcs on his side, you could see how Gengis could have been a “dark lord”. It fits.

Not that Bright was smart enough to give that kind of historical context. Or to even try to invent a Dark Lord that could have existed in place of some conqueror we did know. It went the lazy route, saying, “he’s dark, he’s bad,” and leaving it at that. This, naturally, is how all of its storytelling is handled.

The Inferni

Why are the Inferni aligned with the Dark Lord. We could ask that about the Orcs, too, of course, but in the case of the Inferni, being out villains, context is really important. Because we don’t know who the Dark Lord is, knowing why the Inferni care about bringing him back would both help us understand them better and, because of that, we’d know the Dark Lord better, too. Has he promised them gifts? Do they derive their power from him? Are the wands in the film his tools or were they things the Inferni gained after becoming part of the Dark Lord’s minions? None of this is explained so we don’t really understand the villains at all.

The Inferni exist as these blank, empty antagonists. The three we see, Leilah (Rapace) and her two goons, are cool looking but they have no personality. What little we do know about them is in their performance, imbued by Rapace to seem menacing. That’s not enough to build a whole villain on, though. Story details, actual character development would have helped a lot to take these guys from random, empty goons to something more. If we could understand then in any greater detail, say like why they care about the Dark Lord and what they plan to do once they resurrect him, that would have gone a long way towards making them more interesting villains. All we know about them is they had a wand, they want the wand back, and they’ll kill anyone that gets in their way. That’s it and it’s not nearly enough.

The Wands

Speaking of, what the hell is going on with the wands. We’re told they’re objects of magic, capable of doing anything. If you want money, they can create money. If you are disabled, they can make you walk again. Jakoby (Edgerton) likens wands to nuclear weapons because everyone will fight over them and then someone evil will get it and will cause widespread destruction. If they’re actually capable of everything the movies says then, sure, that tracks… except we never get the proof they can do anything the film says. Hell, everything we see about the wands is exactly the opposite of all that.

For starters, only a “Bright” can use a wand. Brights are magic users, the only people capable of tapping into the magic of wands and actually channeling it without the wand burning them out from the inside. Traditionally brights are elves, but it’s possible, one-in-a-billion chance that a human can be a bright. If they are, they can use the wand… except, even then they also have to know how to activate it. Ward (Smith), as it turns out, is a bright and he can use the wand, but he can’t do anything with it until Tikka (Lucy Fry) tells him the spell to use. Only then does the wand do anything.

So which is it? Are wands things that anyone can use to make any magical effect they want or are they objects you have to train to use, that only specific people can tap into, and even then you have to know the exact magic spells to make it work properly? The movie wants to have it both ways, but that’s because it’s poorly written and doesn’t actually think through any of the scenes and how they connect to one another. Shit just happens and then people tell us why it happened without context making sense.

The whole of the movie can be boiled down to “magical object exists, we have to keep it away from the bad people,” and that’s fine as the start of a story thread. You can hang a lot scenes on that idea. Those scenes, though, have to work towards a cohesive whole, and you can just put random ideas on there and say, “this is cool looking, who cares if it works in context?” I mean, you can, you just end up with a film like Bright, watchable in a trashy way but also incredibly stupid and not worth the time.